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Jesus! In The Raisin Bread? What Kinda Holy Communion Is That?!
April 2, 2002 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Jesus! In The Raisin Bread? What Kinda Holy Communion Is That?! Better read Helen Hull Hitchcock's fascinating column on Catholic.net to find out: "In recent months Catholics from around the country have been reporting with increasing frequency that their parishes are using "real" bread (i.e. table bread) instead of Communion hosts. Many are concerned that the validity of the Mass is affected. "Have I really received Christ?" is a frequent question. Are they right to be concerned? You bet...So, have progressive Catholics gone too far? And what does the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, known to all as IGMR, have to say about that?
posted by MiguelCardoso (53 comments total)

 
there is a special bread that is used in the first communion ceremony, if memory serves, that is from an actual loaf of bread as opposed to the regular, thin wafers. i'm not sure why people care if it's the wafer instead of actual bread; it's not like it's your lunch, actual bread or not.
posted by moz at 9:30 AM on April 2, 2002


my first communion was the usual wafer.
posted by Dom at 9:33 AM on April 2, 2002


hmm... what am i thinking of, then? i know i remember thicker bread from some ceremony.
posted by moz at 9:37 AM on April 2, 2002


I went to a Catholic church for several years which used actual bread for communion. Now, it was unleavened bread (very dense), and it was baked by members of the church (not just bought at a store), but it was clearly what most people would call "bread," as opposed to the usual communion wafer, which most people would call more of a cracker.

As I understand it, there's no liturgical problem with this. I can't help but wonder if the author of the article is stretching things out of proportion, or will lead others to do so. If there are churches that really are using leavened bread (especially raisin bread, although I find that difficult to believe), then that needs to be addressed, but I fear that people will read this article and think that anything which looks remotely like bread is forbidden, which it is not. (The danger of misunderstanding is exacerbated when the author talks about the possibility of "consecrated crumbs"--if that is a problem at all, it exists just as much with legitimate, unleavened bread as it does with leavened breads.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:43 AM on April 2, 2002


I understand that we're supposed to make an effort here to be respectful of all religions, including Christianity, but it's a lot harder for me when I read things like the article linked here. Am I misreading it, or is the Catholic church in effect saying that a communion host can be transubstantiated into the body of Christ but ordinary bread can't be?
posted by anapestic at 9:44 AM on April 2, 2002


moz: either wafers or "real unleavened bread" can be used at any communion service. So it's entirely possible that some churches use wafers all the time, even for first communions, and other churches which usually use wafers use bread for first communions.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:45 AM on April 2, 2002


Well, the original Last Supper was a Passover seder, more or less, so communion hosts as we know them would be more "historically" accurate I suppose(ie, they're unleavened). Although I don't really see anything wrong with using plain old bread. I don't remember this ever happening in 17 years of regular Mass attendance, but it's been 14 years since I've been to Mass for anything other than a wedding, so maybe it's caught on.
posted by jonmc at 9:47 AM on April 2, 2002


These people seem to fear that their souls are in peril if the wrong kind of bread is used. Do they really have so little faith in the power of God that when they get to the pearly gates they envision God having to throw up his hands and say "Hey, what can I do? That bread had yeast in it. Sorry."
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:48 AM on April 2, 2002


Here's a good, short article on transubstantiation, by John Young, which sums up the theological beliefs involved in receiving the "body and blood" of Jesus Christ and bears directly on the issues being discussed here.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:50 AM on April 2, 2002


If I recall correctly from my Presbyterian flavored childhood, the church my parents attended used Wonderbread and grape juice. Kind of a trailer park communion.
posted by jennyb at 9:50 AM on April 2, 2002


I think as long as they don't start using Twinkies it's OK. "Mmm! The body of Christ has a creamy, animal-fat based center!"

Really, it's all symbolic anyway, so what's the difference? If the communion-taker believes in the symbolism, that's all that matters. Although maybe they should think of using this bread (which is very very good!).
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:52 AM on April 2, 2002


Am I misreading it, or is the Catholic church in effect saying that a communion host can be transubstantiated into the body of Christ but ordinary bread can't be?
Yes.
While this may be within accordance of Canon Law (laws of the Catholic Church) to use bread, i think it is also tampering with the tradition of the Catholic Church (tradition is a very imporant aspect of Catholicism).
Also, as far s the bread crumbs go, they are all considered to be the Body of Christ, so it is sacrilage to let them fall and do nothing about it. I am a a Eucharistic Minister (hand out Communion with the Priest at Church), and you're be surprised how many little things there are that must be done to ensure (or at least help to minimize) that crumbs just don't go everywhere.
posted by jmd82 at 9:55 AM on April 2, 2002


That Jesus always goes straight to my hips.
posted by dong_resin at 9:58 AM on April 2, 2002


OK, i just posted, but
Really, it's all symbolic anyway
Within the CC, Communion is NOT a symbol...that would Protestants who believe Communion to be a symbol. People who have not recieved COmmunion w/in the Church are forbidden to recieve the Body of Christ. I don't really care what one thinks of the Eucharist, but please don't use incorrect facts like that.
posted by jmd82 at 9:58 AM on April 2, 2002


I suppose I should add that my position is really a beef with the Catholic Church in general, caused in part by my being raised in a very liberal Protestant church, so my opinions should be taken with a grain of (unconsecrated) salt.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:00 AM on April 2, 2002


Oops. I stand corrected. Thanks for the info, jmd82.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:03 AM on April 2, 2002


I once went to church with my ex-girlfriend (who's Greek Orthodox, and I'm Jewish). She tried to give me a piece of the communion host bread. She said "Oh, come on, it's just bread, don't worry about it" but I was kind of weirded out by the whole concept. And I was worried about it being "safe" or breaking the "rules" of however this stuff is supposed to work. I did end up eating it, but I felt completely awkward, like I was interfering in some sort of supernatural event that I didn't have any part in. It still bothers me a bit.
posted by jozxyqk at 10:11 AM on April 2, 2002


If they start passing out ham-and-cheese sandwiches at church, I'll start to go again. I'll be devout, in fact. Just leave some brown mustard in those little book holders on the back of each pew.
posted by Perigee at 10:15 AM on April 2, 2002


jozxyqk: it should! From the Christian liturgy, those who eat of the communion bread without self-examination "eat and drink judgement upon themselves". This is listed as an explaination of why many of them were dying....

So, your ex-girlfriend was attempting to murder you.
posted by dwivian at 10:17 AM on April 2, 2002


I just like the word "transubstantiation."
posted by bingo at 10:20 AM on April 2, 2002


The link to the transubstantiation article is a good one. The (theo/philo)sophical hoops that are jumped through to ensure that the hosts are considered something other than sumbolic and how out of touch it is with the actual beliefs of (most/many/?) catholics is indicitive (IMO) of why organized religion is failing in the US these days.
posted by jonnyp at 10:30 AM on April 2, 2002


My current catholic church uses unleaved bread baked by members of the church, not wafers, every Sunday. The baking of that bread is a very important ministry at our church, and it is done with great honor, prayer, and solemnity. It is considered a privelege to be a part of that group. I grew up in a catholic church that used only wafers, so when I started going to this one in college it did weird me out the first few times. Now, it bothers me not a bit. I must say that it does *not* go against tradition. The bread is unleavened, keeping with the tradition. The thickness/shape/size of the bread really means nothing in the "tradition" of receiving Communion, if you really think about it. As long as it is unleavened and properly blessed by a priest, it's fine.
posted by rio at 10:31 AM on April 2, 2002


we used white bread at my home church. or maybe wonder bread...
posted by grabbingsand at 10:33 AM on April 2, 2002


These people seem to fear that their souls are in peril if the wrong kind of bread is used.

Where in the article do you see that?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:44 AM on April 2, 2002


So, your ex-girlfriend was attempting to murder you.

That explains SO much. :)
posted by jozxyqk at 10:45 AM on April 2, 2002


rio: that wouldn't by any chance be St. Paul's in Madison, would it?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:45 AM on April 2, 2002


Would it be OK for Catholics to use matzos for Communion? It certainly fits all the requirements, but somehow I suspect it would produce jozxyqk's misgivings in reverse, as it were.

Anyway, here is an excellent summary of the Jewish (being Jewish, I would say Torah)requirement of unleavened bread for Passover which puts the Catholic position in perspective.

At heart, of course, as jonmc pointed out, you have the great contradiction of Jesus, an Orthodox Jew, celebrating the Passover meal much as we do today and the Catholic Church adopting those Holy days as Easter, but adapting it to mourn Jesus's death and celebrate his resurrection.

So you have two Holidays which are fundamentally opposed to each other, specially if you consider the pre-Vatican II dogma that the Jews were the killers of Christ.

It seems to me, however, that as the Catholic Church mellows out, the two traditions have become closer in recent times. A lot of fringe Christians(the "Jews for Jesus" sect for instance, abhorred by both mainstream Christianity and Judaism)celebrate what would formally seem to be a Passover Seder, although obviously geared to the belief of Jesus as the Messiah.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:53 AM on April 2, 2002


Oops, here's the link to an example of how the Judaizing Christians view the question of Passover and unleavened bread.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:58 AM on April 2, 2002


Miguel: not at all different, actually.

The focus of the Passover is the sacrifice of a lamb to cause the judgement of God to pass by your house and all therein.

The focuse of Easter is the sacrifice of Jesus (the pascal lamb) to cause the judgement of God to pass by the whole of the earth.
posted by dwivian at 11:01 AM on April 2, 2002


I've been known to sit on a park bench and give communion to the pigeons, is this sacrilege ?
posted by pekar wood at 11:26 AM on April 2, 2002


DevilsAdvocate: no, the University Catholic Center at UCLA. :)
posted by rio at 11:26 AM on April 2, 2002


If I recall correctly from my Presbyterian flavored childhood, the church my parents attended used Wonderbread and grape juice.

jennyb and I must have gone to the same church. A friend of mine who later became a stand-up comedian had a joke about the Wonder-bread-body-of-Christ. The bread was always cut into little cubes. The punch line? Today, body of Christ; tomorrow, croutons!
posted by Dick Paris at 11:33 AM on April 2, 2002


Miguel: Don't you think it's a bit of an oversimplification to say that Passover and Communion are "fundamentally opposed to each other"? To Judaism, in theological terms anyway, Christianity is irrelevant; to Christianity, Judaism is an incomplete version of the true faith.

Still, those Jews For Jesus drive me bananas.
posted by bingo at 11:40 AM on April 2, 2002


Actually when I was in Florida we did use broken matzos for communion-but not at a Catholic church. I'm a nondenominational charismatic. We used to break pieces of matzo to share with each other at communion. at the church we go to now we use those tasteless wafers. They stick to the roof of your mouth if you aren't careful....I really miss the matzo.
posted by bunnyfire at 11:59 AM on April 2, 2002


An Aside (Please don't read.):
I really hate post-vatican two roman catholicism. I fell off my stool last night bemoaning the fact that I have to look at the priest during mass. If I go to church it is for the ritual and symbolism that keeps cultures together. I like my beads and my idols thank you very much. Listening to the priest in English means you have to hear what he has to say, and THAT can be quite offensive. A little prayer never hurt anyone but those cushions on the kneelers means that you are in danger of snoring. I like my priests prostrate, my mass in Latin, and if somebody tries to hold my hand during the Our Father one more time I'm going to speak in tongues. I hate the protestantization of the Catholic church. It's bad ass to cook the bread in a special sacred ceremony instead of buying it from Priests 'R Us. Matzos like bread is fine but not from some cracker box.
posted by goneill at 12:15 PM on April 2, 2002


Miguel: Don't you think it's a bit of an oversimplification to say that Passover and Communion are "fundamentally opposed to each other"?
I agree w/ bingo on this point. A Catholic theoligian (David Hahn) has a book called "The 4th Cup" where he uses the OT and tha Passover meal to show show in line Passover and the Last Supper (and hence Communion) is. It is REALLY good and reccomend it to anyone interested in learning more about how the Last Supper is connected w/ the OT.
posted by jmd82 at 12:17 PM on April 2, 2002


"this is my body given for you."

It just occured to me that the Protestant/Catholic debate over the meaning of Communion comes down to what the meaning of the word "is" is.

Somebody owes Bill Clinton an apology.

Seriously though, I've always liked the Lutheran position on Communion. No transubstantiation, but God's "forgiveness and mercy" are literally present in the bread and wine (as opposed to being represented by the bread and wine).
posted by boltman at 12:53 PM on April 2, 2002


Well, the original Last Supper was a Passover seder, more or less...

Just in 3 of the 4 gospels; in John, the last supper took place before Passover began.
posted by ChrisTN at 1:00 PM on April 2, 2002


Actually, goneill, there are still ceremonies where the priests prostrate themselves. Sorry that you have to actually understand what is being spoken; of course, the homily has always been in the vernacular, and the liturgical prayers tend to be the same thing every week, so it's not like you have to listen to them any more than when they were in Latin. We've still got the rosaries and shrines to various saints (with requisite statues) -- heck, my grandma's church in Florida finished a grotto for Mary a couple years ago.

Back to the bread issue -- when I was in 4th grade, my CCD class got to plan our own Mass, that the priest was going to celebrate with us one week. We picked the music, we picked the readings (from a list), and we even baked the communion bread. It tasted so bad; I always liked the taste of regular communion wafers and I suppose the taste is very dependent on the flour. More to the point, you can't use good ole all-purpose white flour and make good-tasting communion bread. I understand the temptation to turn to tastier and tastier bread, but there's a big crumb problem with most breads -- that's just not dignified, even forgetting the desecration problem.
posted by meep at 1:24 PM on April 2, 2002


If they start passing out ham-and-cheese sandwiches at church, I'll start to go again. I'll be devout, in fact. Just leave some brown mustard in those little book holders on the back of each pew.

Mmmm, or pancakes. Communion pancakes.
posted by piskycritters at 1:30 PM on April 2, 2002


This reminds me of some of the hilarious details to be found in the writings of medieval monkFelix Fabri. His most important reason why Mass should not be celebrated on board ship (and he has a bunch of reasons) is worth quoting:

The fifteenth reason why the Eucharist is not to be partaken of on shipboard is because of the ease and suddenness with which men vomit there; for if a storm should arise immediately after a priest had finished the celebration of Mass, he would be compelled by the force of nature to vomit forth the sacrament, nor could he retain it; which thing is horrible to be told. Therefore it is through piety that this sacrament is withheld from those at sea.

Definitely bad to vomit forth the body of Our Lord.
posted by BT at 2:34 PM on April 2, 2002


I guess Matzoh won't be used any time soon : 0
posted by ParisParamus at 2:50 PM on April 2, 2002


2, 4, 6, 8... time to transsubstantiate!
posted by kindall at 2:57 PM on April 2, 2002


I once went to church with my ex-girlfriend (who's Greek Orthodox, and I'm Jewish). She tried to give me a piece of the communion host bread.`

jozxyqk, for what it's worth, most of the Eastern Orthodox faiths don't give communion to everyone at every liturgy. It tends to be more of a once-in-awhile type of thing than it is for Catholics, preceded by fasting and a requisite confession. What your ex-girlfriend tried to give you was most likely the "antidoron": bread which has been blessed, but not consecrated. It's actually the exterior of the loaf from which the communion bread has been taken, removed before the consecration of the communion bread. So there's no need for you to be bothered: you didn't eat any actual Jesus. As a matter of fact, non-Orthodox people who come to an Orthodox service are encouraged to eat the antidoron--it's like a symbolic community meal.

On another point--the Orthodox communion gets around the problem of crumbs in an interesting manner: the bread, once consecrated, is kept in the same chalice as the wine--it's totally soaked through with wine, in fact. When you receive communion, you're given a piece of wine-soaked bread on a spoon. Since wine-soaked bread isn't all dry and crumbly, there are no crumbs.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:07 PM on April 2, 2002


I really enjoyed my college Masses - the Eucharist was real bread. I mean, for goodness sake, Jesus did not eat those little wafers with crosses on them at the Last Supper. Real (unleavened) bread kind of made me feel more a part of the ceremony.

Back to the "crumb" problem. I was a sacristan assistant at my parish, and one of my duties was to prepare the unconsecrated hosts for the Eucharistic ceremony. There were TONS of crumbs in the little bags that the wafers were in, and I find it hard to believe that none of those crumbs were consecrated and then dropped or misplaced. I mean, at least in my church, the priest ceremonially consecrates one large host, breaks it into smaller pieces, and gives it to the Eucharistic Ministers (yes, I'm one of those, too), Altar Servers, Lectors, Deacons, etc.. It's hard to believe that the breaking of that hard, crispy piece of bread doesn't create some crumbs.

Sorry to go off on the crumb thing, but in my experience it's something that is dogmatically a big thing and turns out in practice to be no sweat. Then again, it's just my experience - and all of the parishes I've belonged to have been incredibly progressive.

I guess it's just a matter of what you prefer. I prefer progressive. Some people prefer conservative. I have a friend who prefers the Latin rite.

When it all comes down to it, do you really want to believe in a God (or a Jesus) that will punish you for spilling crumbs? Sheesh.
posted by MeetMegan at 3:10 PM on April 2, 2002


Increase the holiness of your Mass with Vegemite. Everybody I've seen take Vegemite with their Communion wafer is become as struck from above, able to do nought but splutter the Lord's name: oh, GOD! *splutter* JESUS!*spit*
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:32 PM on April 2, 2002


You know, we are having fun with this topic, but people used to be burned at the stake for holding the "wrong opinion" regarding communion......yeesh.
posted by bunnyfire at 4:29 PM on April 2, 2002


A very religious Catholic friend of my family's consistently referred to Vatican II as "when the Church got religion."
posted by NortonDC at 5:39 PM on April 2, 2002


Sometime, when I was younger, when biodegradable packing material started to appear made from cellulose (as opposed to cellulite, mind you), I decided to eat some.

It was pleasantly tasty. Not in a super-yummy way, but in more of a nutty, inoffensive way. And, it reminded of a taste from my youth. It tasted exactly like the Eucharist.

It warmed me to think of all the things that were being shipped in the Body of Christ.
posted by warhol at 7:08 PM on April 2, 2002


Vatican II

Was hollywood involved?
posted by Neale at 7:22 PM on April 2, 2002


Just look out for Vatican III, in 3-D!
See communion wafers fly out of the screen!
Dodge canon law!
Weave in and out of local vernacular!

But, to be serious -- the crumb problem is often solved by the breaking of the bread over a 'corporal', or cloth laid out to catch the crumbs. It is found in the burse, or envelope, which is placed on top of the 'paten' (plate), 'pall' (a divider used in the past to keep bugs out of the paten), and veil (used to cover the sacrament after blessing, if remainder is to be stored in reserve [often in a ciborium, but occasionally in the paten]).

A careful priest will use the paten to gather up crumbs and ingest them with the last of the wine. Remaining crumbs get folded up into the corporal, which is taken away by the altar guild after the service, to be shaken into a piscena (dry well drain) or onto the ground (dust to dust, and all that).

There are special considerations taken, not because Jesus will come get us for mistreatment of the Body of Christ, but because there is a belief that it is what he said it was (and, what does "is" mean, anyway, Mr. Clinton?) and is somehow beyond being just bread.
posted by dwivian at 8:33 PM on April 2, 2002


at the church we go to now we use those tasteless wafers. They stick to the roof of your mouth if you aren't careful...

This has always been an issue. Back in my CCD pre-First Communion classes we were instructed in no uncertain terms NOT to chew the Eucharist. So we wound up folding it with our tongues over and over till it was soft enough to swallow. I also remember being surprised by, after all the buildup, how bland they tasted.
posted by jonmc at 8:49 PM on April 2, 2002


Baptist transubstatiation: "We believe the wine is literally transformed into Welch's grape juice."
posted by straight at 6:38 AM on April 3, 2002


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